Kevin Kuntz, Ph.D.
Kevin is the lab manager and innovation expert at Isodetect GmbH, Germany. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Leipzig (Germany) in the research field of anaerobic biodegradation of groundwater contaminants. Before his engagement at Isodetect, Kevin worked as a coordinator of a joint German-Israel Research Project and as an executive assistant at the Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Leipzig, Germany. In the past 16 years he developed many innovative tools in the area of molecular biology and compound-specific isotope analysis for the assessment of in situ degradation of organic contaminants. As the innovation expert at Isodetect he is responsible for the development and implementation of new and highly efficient analytical tools within the business areas of pollutant degradation and monitoring of gas & geothermal energy processing.
Anko Fischer, Ph.D.
Anko is the leader of the Isodetect team in Leipzig. He is a geoecologist and an expert in the field of isotope analysis of contaminated sites. He has published more than 30 peer reviewed articles on the development of isotope tools for the assessment of pollutant degradation and source identification. He has managed and evaluated more than 200 projects in the field of contaminated site assessment. Anko also has extensive technical and practical knowledge in the analysis of stable isotopes and comprehensive experience in the processing and management of funded R&D projects.
Q. How did you become involved in groundwater remediation and compound specific isotope analysis?
K.K. The passion on groundwater remediation and isotope analysis started directly at the beginning of my scientific career. As a student I worked as a lab assistant in the department of Dr. Hans Richnow, a leading scientist in the field of compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA) and the co-founder of Isodetect in 2005. For my diploma and later Ph.D., I joined the working group of Matthias Boll (now University of Freiburg), who is a leading scientist in the research field of microbial degradation of organic pollutants.
A.F. My first experience with groundwater remediation and CSIA was during my diploma thesis, which was almost 20 years ago. Afterwards, I developed essential basics for the application of CSIA at contaminated sites as part of my Ph.D. thesis. I brought this experience as an important basis for the business development of Isodetect.
Q. Could you provide a brief high-level overview of some of the current projects that you are currently working on at Isodetect?
K.K. In addition to our core business on analytical services, we are involved in several R&D projects to transfer innovative know-how, which is generated in close cooperation with partners from science and technology, to the market. For example, we are currently developing CSIA methods on PFAS (“Fate-PFT” funded by BMBF) and have successfully shown isotope fractionation during chemical degradation of PFOA. We see a high potential to determine sources and sinks of PFAS by CSIA.
A.F. Every project either commercial or R&D that I managed has a unique character because the scope of the investigations are often specific or the conditions of the field site are quite diverse. Therefore, it is a bit difficult for me to choose a specific project. But among the commercial projects, we are currently working on a site in the second phase of investigation. In the first step, we developed and implemented a multiple-line-of-evidence approach including CSIA, qPCR and lab microcosms with 13C-labeled target pollutants in order to thoroughly evaluate natural pollutant biodegradation, its biostimulation potential and the fate of the contaminant plume. This commercial project has a lighthouse character as it illustrates the benefit to the client when meaningful knowledge on the in situ pollutant degradation and the biostimulation potential is created and this facilitates the implementation of a powerful and cost-efficient remediation concept.
When it comes to R&D projects, I think of IsoFLUX, which is a collaboration with partners from Belgium and funded in the EU program “Eurostars”. IsoFLUX will allow precise flux calculations and time-integrated CSIA of groundwater pollutants with unrivalled detection limits in one unique methodology. Using time-integrated data on concentrations and isotopes, novel interpretation schemes will enable sound source strength assessment, quantification of pollutant degradation and success control of remediation measures.
Q. Is there a particular project that you have worked on that has presented a unique challenge or had unexpected results?
K.K. To stay on the PFAS topic, it was not known if isotope fractionation occurs during its chemical transformation. The application of two different chemical transformation reactions (radical degradation as well as reductive defluorination) with the recently developed CSIA method, we showed for the first time that isotope fraction happens during degradation of PFOA, which will enable the further development of unique monitoring tools for the success control of PFAS remediation.
A.F. We had some recent projects where clients asked for source allocation and degradation evaluation of pesticides, specifically Dichlorprop, Mecoprop and 4-CPP. The challenge was to establish a reliable CSIA approach for these hydrophilic pollutants, which exhibited concentrations in the sub-μg/L level in the groundwater samples. We managed to develop efficient extraction and derivatization methods for CSIA of the pesticides. In addition, we were even able to develop a method for the isotope analysis of the different enantiomers of the pesticides. This enantiomer-specific isotope analysis (ESIA) allowed a more precise source allocation and degradation evaluation of pesticides.
Q. What is the main piece of advice that you would give to clients that are interested in utilizing CSIA in groundwater remediation monitoring or site characterization?
K.K. Get the most out of your data (i.e., forensic, forecasts on plume development, degradation rate constants) by applying CSIA in your remediation monitoring.
A.F. In addition to the accurate and precise isotope analysis of pollutants, the professional evaluation of isotope data is important. If the customer or the consulting firm involved does not have the relevant experience in evaluating isotope data, this should be done by isotope experts. This ensures that the isotope data can provide maximum informative value for the needs of the customer. At Isodetect, we have comprehensive experience in evaluating isotope data and we offer this service.
Q. You have done many projects over the years that have used a combination of analytical tools & technologies for site remediation, overall in your opinion are there any analyses that should become “standard” for all remediation projects?
K.K. Yes, of course CSIA 😉
A.F. I agree with Kevin`s answer, but I want to be more specific. CSIA should become “standard” for pollutants, for which CSIA is well established like BTEX, chlorinated solvents, MTBE/ETBE, PAHs, chlorinated benzenes explosives, nitrate, 1,4-dioxane, some pesticides (e.g. HCH). It would be great to use CSIA for other pollutants, however, some research on whether reliable analysis methods are available or can be established and determine if the basis for the evaluation of the isotope data is available. In the end, it would be ideal to have guidelines provided by environmental authorities on the standardized application of CSIA. The CSIA guidance from the USEPA is a good starting point.
Q. Remediation tools are constantly evolving and being enhanced. What enhancements (if any) are there for CSIA that we should be excited about?
K.K. CSIA is not limited to traditional contaminants like BTEX, TPH and CVOC. Methods have already developed and applied to some emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and pesticides. Moreover, the application of a multi-element CSIA (carbon, chlorine, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen) for a multi-dimensional survey is also possible.
A.F. I have just one addition to Kevin`s answers, I would like to highlight enantiomer-specific isotope analysis – ESIA), which allows a more specific source allocation and degradation evaluation for chiral pollutants.
Q. Is there a moment or achievement in your career that you are particularly proud of?
K.K. I am just thankful where my career has brought me so far.
A.F. We offer a workshop on “Investigation methods for evaluating pollutant degradation at contaminated sites” and we are consistently given positive feedback from the participants. This makes me proud about my work at Isodetect.
Q. Is there another area of science (outside of Environmental Chemistry) that you follow or find interesting?
K.K. My older son is now in an age questioning the whole world. To answer all of his questions my interests are now evolving everywhere, from astronomy to the deep ocean.
A.F. I find the technical developments towards a CO2-neutral industry very interesting and try to learn as much as I can on this topic. At Isodetect, we have or are currently developing suitable monitoring concepts for this area. For example, we have established CSIA concepts for evaluating biogas production or underground hydrogen storage. At the moment, we are developing a monitoring strategy for evaluating the impact of aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) using isotope analysis.
Q. What do you enjoy doing outside of your job?
K.K. Family time, trying out different sport activities and reset the mind by gardening.
A.F. Also family time, playing soccer, listening to music.